With very little traveling done since our last post, I will dedicate this new post talking about a process that is considered to be a nightmare for every overlander. That is no other than “The SHIPPING Process”. If you have talked to anyone that has gone through this, they will definitely have some horror story to tell you. As a disclaimer, I would also like to add that parts of the information in this post are taken from the book “Traveliving: A romantic & practical guide” that fellow travelers Nikos and Georgia researched and developed. For those of you that would like to download their book, scroll at the end of this post for more information. 

My purpose in this post is not to discourage anyone from shipping as this is a key part of Overlanding but to raise your awareness about the fact that vehicle shipping is a generally difficult and nerve breaking task and you should accept it as such.

As Nikos states in his book, “The major problem that all travelers face when trying to ship their vehicles is that nobody wants to do business with them and no shipping line will take them seriously because they have nothing to gain out of them. You are not seen as a frequent customer, you will not bring more business plus travelers always will try to bargain for a better deal. Most travelers have no idea how sea logistics work, how ports, customs and agents cooperate, what are the laws and procedures related to ocean freight cargo, what can be done to enable the process, etc. On the other hand, nobody is willing to explain to you the how’s and why’s and this is how you end up learning on the spot (usually the hard way).” 

Speaking out of personal experience and through our time in overlanding travel, we have used both RoRo (Roll on Roll Off) and container services, with some of them gone smooth and others gone really badly. Just to clarify things for those of you that are not familiar with the terminology, in RORO shipments, as the word suggests, you have to deliver the car and hand over the keys.

Your vehicle will then be driven directly onto the boat by port personnel, a few hours before the departure.

This method simplifies the procedures, has very low port charges, less delays, almost no paperwork and quite straightforward receiving process. On the downside though, your vehicle travels unlocked on a vessel that probably stops in numerous ports before reaching your destination and therefore it runs high risk of theft or vandalism on the process. Container service on the other hand is much safer in that matter, as your vehicle gets locked inside a container till it reaches you on the other side. In order to achieve that though, you need to deal with a bureaucratic nightmare, lots of extra charges, handling fees and a lot of paperwork.

Personally speaking, and as the stress is building up since we are going through the process as we speak, with our car being shipped on its way to Middle East, we had a total of two out of five shipping experiences that went terribly wrong. The process is straight forward in theory, meaning that all you need to do is find a shipping company that offers international shipping at the destination you want and arrange with them the whole process. Once they have everything booked and sorted for you, what is left is to specify the date of delivery at the port or the warehouse (for the container service only) for the loading of your vehicle. The agent will give you a rough estimate of the arrival and you are good to go. Sounds easy, hey! Well, not quite. In our experience, factors like rough sea, dock or custom issues as well as port delays are most likely to change things with either your delivery or departure date dramatically. Finally, the honesty and professionalism of the agent or the company you are dealing with can become one of the most crucial parts for your delay. When we shipped from Jebel Ali (UAE) to Mumbai (India) in a 20” container, we arranged our flight in such a way that we departed a week after the day of loading the car. As the agent had promised us that it would take two weeks for the container to reach India, we would have been in India just in time for the arrival.

To cut the story short, we ended up waiting in India an extra 30 days (in total 45 days) as the ship that our container was supposed to be on was changed by the agent (never found out why) without any prior notice. Also at the beginning of our current trip, when we shipped from UK to Australia and although we tried to avoid any delays by planning the delivery of the car early enough, we arranged to fly ten days after the delivery of the vehicle at the agent’s warehouse in London, just in case something went wrong, That didn’t work out as planned. Our car wasn’t shipped with the scheduled boat on time and after repeated delays, it got caught in the Covid time lockdowns worldwide. As a result of all that, the car remained back in London’s port, waiting for a ship with available space for more than two months. After two more cancelations, it took a total of three months to reach Australia costing us double in money and time from what was originally expected.

Add to that the fact that even when it arrived in Australia, it didn’t manage to pass the quarantine inspection for mud found in the chassis which added more delay time. Was it our fault? No, as we were assured that the company we ship with will add a special detailing (which we paid for) prior to shipping back in England. I assume you can get the picture of how things can go wrong and why our frustration during this process went through the roof. At this point, as I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about shipping, I will say that our very first shipment from Iran to UAE and although we did every possible mistake that a first timer can make, it ended up being “the almost perfect shipping”. Everything worked as planned.

Our agent, a dodgy character on the Iranian side, although he didn’t look like it, was honest and professional. The so called shipping line was an onion boat with Afghan ex-refugee crew that proved to be perfectly reliable and our dates of loading and unloading were spot on. The fact that we panicked on the UAE side and caused a bit of a hassle, thinking that our vehicle had been stolen, had to do only with us being rookies! (Check our Iranian post for more on this story https://overlanddiaries.com/chapter-17/). Finally, on our way to South America as well as on the way back, in both cases a RoRo shipping went really smooth and left us with fantastic memories. Besides the fact that we got to sail on board a cargo boat crossing the Atlantic twice,(Read more here:https://overlanddiaries.com/crossing-the-atlantic-ocean/) we had a great experience on board as we met fellow overlanders and became really good friends that we are still in touch with till this day. 

As a conclusion, no matter how hard you try to plan your shipping, either RoRo or container, one thing is certain. The feeling of relief that you get the minute that Customs give you the all clear and you are free to drive out of the port is something indescribable. At the end of the day, all you need to do is arm yourself with patience, allow plenty of time on both sides, calculate an extra 20-30% to the quotes that you have been given when you are budgeting and try to always have a plan B if possible.

  After spending Christmas in Australia and with the great news that our boat is heading to UAE, we booked our tickets and got ready for the next chapter of our adventure. Still in Covid-19 times and with my Visa time running out, we had the third dose of our vaccine and got booked for a PCR test 72 hours prior our departure, as this was the requirement needed by the authorities in order to enter UAE. With that done in Perth, the time had come to board the plane.

Funny enough, the fact that we had not been to an airport for almost two years in a row and with what has happened through these two years, made us a bit nervous. Upon our departure date we walk into an empty airport in Perth, as most flights into Perth had been canceled.Everything went smooth and after an eleven hours and a bit flight we landed in Dubai.On the way out we got our drone confiscated but after explaining to them that we are not flying out of UAE and we drive instead, we had to declare that we would not use it and pay the permission to carry it through. All and all with minimum hassle we walked out of the airport realising that “What the heck, life must go on after Covid-19”, so off we were… UAE, here we come!!! 

P.S. Nikos & Georgia’s book: Traveliving: A romantic & practical guide -Copyright © 2017 Nikos Dimitriou – ISBN 978-960-93-9086-6 

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